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The Three Primary Ways You Are Abusing Your Email Inbox

Friday, January 11, 2019   (0 Comments)
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Written by Randy Dean, MBA, for AAOE

People don't use their inboxes properly.  As a time/productivity management speaker, I see it too often.  These mistakes lead to distraction, lost time, and rework.  Most people use their e-mail inbox in four specific ways, yet only one of those ways is correct:

  1. As your de facto yet disorganized daily task list.  Many people use their inbox as their default task list.  It isn't built for that.  It is hard to prioritize individual items in an inbox, so you end up looking at the same messages multiple times, trying to figure out which ones are important or urgent.  Most tasking programs like Outlook and Google Tasks allow you to see your tasks in priority by either date or project (I teach this!).  Very quickly, you can see what is most important or urgent. 
  2.  As your de facto “general” file box.  The other thing people do is use their inbox to store nearly everything with no consistent filing strategy. Most have some folders, but they rarely file everything they should in their folders.  And they leave literally hundreds of e-mails, many already read, sitting in their inbox.  There are two big problems with leaving read e-mails in your inbox:  1) you'll likely read them multiple times; and, 2) as e-mails keep collecting, you lose efficiency.  How about this:  If you can do it now, do it.  If you can't do it now, add it to your tasks or calendar.  Then, put it away (or delete it!). 
  3. Final mistake: checking that inbox too often.  A recent study I found states that nearly 25% of professionals check their e-mail 20 or more times daily! (That's every few minutes!)  How can you maintain focus when you’re distracting yourself every few minutes?  If you stay on these “crazy trains”, you will literally lose YEARS of productivity through abusive inbox activities.
  4. The correct use: to receive and process new messages.  The key reason you have an inbox is to receive new items in that inbox, and quickly and efficiently figure out what those items are. Then, properly process them.  If you've attended my courses, you know to immediately handle the emails with quick tasks and to put the more time-consuming emails on either your task list or your calendar, thus allowing you to better prioritize.  After you get them “done” or “tasked”, you either delete those messages or file them for later reference.  This is really the only way to use an inbox. 

Here are three email practices to implement right away:

1. When checking e-mail, process them the first time you see them.  If you can handle the task quickly, do it now.  If not, add it to your calendar or task list. Make decisions from your calendar and task list – NOT your inbox.

2.  Once you have that e-mail either done or tasked, file it or delete it.  And if there is no good place to file it, MAKE ONE and put it there.

3.  And stop checking e-mail so often!  Get on some form of a regimen that balances being responsive with getting things done. 

Want to learn more tips for better e-mail management? Register now for “Taming the Email Beast.” On Thursday, January 24 I’m holding three different sessions to teach Outlook and Gmail users how to keep up with the heavy flow of e-mail messages, use powerful time-saving techniques, and simply make it easier to find your messages whenever you need them! Register today at the special AAOE member discount!


About the Author

Randy Dean, MBA, The E-mail Sanity Expert®, has been one of the most popular expert speakers on the conference, corporate, and university training and speaking circuit for several years. The author of the recent Amazon e-mail bestseller, Taming the E-mail Beast, Randy is a very popular and engaging time, e-mail, and technology management speaker and trainer. He brings more than 25 years of speaking and training experience to his programs, and has been very popular with programs including Taming the E-mail Beast, Finding an Extra Hour Every Day, Optimizing Your Outlook, Time Management in "The Cloud" Using Google and Other Online Apps, and Smart Phone Success & Terrific Tablets. Learn more at

NOTE: You can subscribe to Randy's monthly Timely Tips e-newsletter – where he features one time-saving tip and one smart phone/tablet featured app each month – by simply sending him an e-mail at and putting “Timely Tips please” in the subject line.

You may also want to check out or even subscribe to Randy's YouTube Channel at where he often posts some of his favorite technology tips, snippets from program sessions, info about popular programs, and more.

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